An increase in leasing fees of more than 2,000 per cent may force a long-time business out of the Pitt Meadows airport.
Ian Flanagan has owned and operated Pacific Skydivers Ltd. out of the Pitt Meadows Airport since 1986, but says he is considering packing his things and moving to Alberta after finding out the fees the airport charges him to let his skydivers land on a swampy piece of ground next to one of the runways has increased from $2,800 annually to more than $60,000.
“There’s no way I can pay that,” said Flanagan. “[The airport’s] position is just absurd.”
Flanagan’s company attracts more than 1,500 customers annually, and employs 12 people in peak season.
“So far this year, we’ve paid out $270,000 in pay roll, bought $100,000 in [aviation] gas, $70,000 in maintenance,” he said, adding that he already pays $50,000 in rent for hangars and offices.
But if he has to pay the new lease rate, Flanagan said he plans to move his business to Alberta, where he already owns and operates a skydiving drop zone licence.
Glenn Ralph, general manager of the Pitt Meadows Airport, said the rate Flanagan was previously charged was a throwback to previous deals struck with Transport Canada, when it ran the airport.
However, those fees don’t reflect the true value of the land Flanagan is leasing from the airport.
Ralph said taxes on the 1.4-hectare piece of property alone cost the airport close to $9,000 annually.
“He was dramatically underpaying, that’s the only reason why he’s seeing such an increase,” Ralph said. “He’s had a very good deal for a very long time … but it had to be dealt with. It wasn’t fair to our other tenants.”
Ralph added the new lease rate Flanagan is being charged is consistent with what the airport’s other tenants are paying.
“There’s 52 other tenants, and many have renewed or are in the process of renewing at this rate,” said Ralph.
Flanagan said he believes his business is being unfairly targeted by the airport because he refused to buy aviation fuel from them, opting instead to buy from the Aero Club of B.C., which operates self-serve pumps at the airport.
Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Ralph.
“That has absolutely nothing to do with it,” he said. “We don’t make any money off our fuel sales, we provide that merely as a service to our tenants.”
Ralph said the loss of Flanagan’s business would have an “insignificant” impact on the airport’s business.
The airport is operated by a private, non-profit society, and Flanagan said he hopes to bring the matter before the airport society’s board for reconsideration.
However, Ralph said Flanagan has known about the increase for more than a year and a half, and has already had plenty of opportunity to do that.